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Censorship 2.0: Shadowy forces controlling online conversations (digitalnewsasia.com)
255 points by r721 on Dec 13, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 152 comments

Of course, this place isn't immune to it. That includes all the usual suspect discussions (NSA, Palestine, China, Russia etc.) but more visibly with the employees of certain companies.

One of the more curious things you can do on HN to distract from a story is to start a tangential flamewar in the comments on it, but my single favourite way I see to bury things around here is to ask for detailed citations to data for something which really doesn't need it, as that results either in a flamewar or if left the post loses any momentum completely.

The fascinating thing is, you can't stop the ads on HN from the big big players, because it's effectively accounted as being real news. Zuckerberg held the second public Q&A session the other day, that promised him some news. Then there was that article about a woman engineer at Facebook, the story appeals very appropriately to current events and the emotional zeitgeist of the tech industry, and there was that whole campaign by Sheryl Sandberg in the last few years (which she has dialed down now). So, astroturfing is an amateur's game, the big boys actually launch massive campaigns that give them a nice PR image, they do big actions that ensure coverage. All of this is done very carefully to ensure that the news is framed in a way they want to consumers. One of my favorite pg essays is about this, about the fact that a lot of journalists are lazy and fishing for a marketable story. Make the work easy for them, give them a marketable narrative (communicate it to them not by giving them money/bribing them -- no, that's an amateur's game, you give them the narrative in a socratic manner, you give them selected bits and pieces and trust they'll fill in the blanks). But money/bribing/soft extortion helps too. E.g., if you slam Apple, you don't get invited to their conferences and such. And everyone wants Apple stories... and if you can't report Apple stories, you lose viewers. So you just keep giving out nice Apple stories and you can remain confident you'll continue to get a nice stream of goodies from Apple. Etc. etc.

Here's a fun article about facebook's postmodern propaganda:


Part 2: http://thelastpsychiatrist.com/2014/03/who_can_know_how_much...

Note: one may well disagree with some of the things he says. Try not to freak out.

There's great chapter in Edward Bernays' Propaganda where he takes apart a stereotypical set of newspaper stories and categorises them according to the type of agenda they serve; surpirise surprise almost none are real news (if that's actually a thing? Depends how reductionist you want to go). Applies just as much now as then, and as much to HN as any other media outlet

This was just the start:


Now companies and big governments are analyzing network graphs in real time thanks to Facebook. They can test people's reaction on real time to anything.

I don't believe that Apple's success is just about Advertisement, I use their products a lot because they are very good products.

When I was a kid I did not have money so I bought all computer gear myself looking for the best deal, then I also used my own OS(gentoo with everything super optimized). I used to joke with my friends about how Apple was all about Advertisements and nothing about quality, and people was so stupid.

Then I grow up, I started working on my own and I suffered so much for my conscienceless. First I had to change to a stable Debian because gentoo was killing me, then I had to change to standardized hardware too as it was doing my life miserable.

One day I bought a mac as a luxury because I had made some money with my company. I started using it a lot, it was so simple and it did not made me spent as much time as Linux. I made some numbers and it made sense to buy more Apple gear. It worked great.

I made tons of money buying "expensive"() stuff.

What makes Apple great is that is is one of the only companies that get how real people work, read this book:


Now, I am not a fanatic of Apple, I would love other companies doing the same(like doing my computers on metal) but it is not easy. In my experience companies without engineers on place do not know how to create things. Those that have engineers on place do not understand humans well enough.

()expensive is losing a customer because you could not fix something on time. Expensive is paying an engineer to pay for something that should not be broken in the fist time.

Was your post just an elaborate example of this sort of organic advertising and astroturfing?

It sure looks like it to me. Notice how the flow of his conversation goes from on topic to something completely non-relevant that hits close to home on HN and is quite relevant/important to the members here.

The reply to that comment could be or is an example of how forum-sliding can be obtained with multiple accounts.

How do we know that those up votes are legitimate too?

I hate Apple.

I too used to use Gentoo, though it was far from my first Linux OS, and Linux was not my first Unix-like OS. I'll spare you the recounting of my entire computer-use history, except to say that I've used a wide variety of operating system over a period of decades, both as a user, sysadmin, and a developer.

I've hated Windows since it was invented, and hated Microsoft before even then, back in the DOS days, when it was a grabage OS that undeservedly dominated the 8-bit market. In some ways it's gotten better (particularly on the stability front), but in others its gotten worse (its dominance on the desktop market is complete).

Apple is like Microsoft with a smile on its face. Everybody's switching to it because it's cool, sleek, and trendy and even Linux is trying to emulate it. But its walled gardens, dumbed down, crippled and bastardized OS'es and "fuck you", "my way or the highway" attitude towards technical users, developers, and sysadmins make me want to puke.

Most users don't know any better, but I really don't get all the technical people who've switched to it from Linux and still sing its praises. They should know better. The most common attitude I hear from them is that they'd rather their OS "just work", and that they're too busy to spend a lot of time tweaking or making it work.

To that I say that they're really not as technical as they think. Someone who loves technology would pick the technically superior solution, the solution that gave them more choice and power, even if it required more of them as users, rather than picking the dumbed-down, technically crippled solution that may be easier to use by non-technical users (or users who don't care about technoogy, or are too busy to care). They would pick the three-button mouse over the one-button mouse.

Some examples of crippled and dumbed-down aspects of OS X off the top of my head (I should really keep a list, as I run in to something nearly every day):

  - massive and pervasive lack of choice
  - no focuse-follows mouse
  - no tiling window managers
  - X is not integrated with OS X's crappy windowing system,
    so you can't use X and still effectively interact with non-X gui apps
  - the Finder is a horrendous piece of shit
  - mouse-centric interface, forcing clicking through everything to
    configure the machine
  - no standard package manager (no, homebrew/macports, etc are not a
    good substitute until they can install everything and do it
    without conflict with the rest of the OS
  - no standard way to uninstall software
  - no more server-level hardware, forcing the use of Mac minis in
    racks because of:
  - license limits to running OSX only on Apple hardware, so you can't
    run it on standard server-level intel/amd hardware
  - tons of closed, proprietary, non-standard garbage like mDNSResponder, mds, etc
  - a feeble culture of open-source compared to Linux/BSD
  - default installs stuck with ancient versions of *nix utilities like bash
  - etc, etc, etc
  - and don't even get me started on the Apple Store or iDevices
I wish I never even knew any of the above, but I've been forced to find out because I'm forced to use OS X at work. I've long suspected that OS X is garbage, but now I know first-hand. It's like Windows all over again.

I guess I should be grateful that it's a *nix underneath, even if it is crippled and bastardized. But the world would be far better off if Microsoft and Apple never existed.


As a counter to the notion that "they're really not as technical as they think," I'd argue that the professional user has to pick and choose his battles. Spending half a day futzing with window manager and X server configurations--whether due to new hardware, an incompatible patch, or something else--really, really hurts when it stands in the way of programming.

Mainstream Linux distros have not required those things for many years.

> I'm forced to use OS X at work.

I'm using Linux at work (or school -- PhD student here) and having only a non-root user account is a big pain for me. Package managers are unavailable, direct hardware access as well (I can't update my keyboard's programming, for instance), the software is old (debian stable) and you have to clash either with the administrators or have a shadow copy of each application you want to have up to date (emacs, Mono, and others).

Having root on my computer would solve a lot of those things (but the administrators are strongly against that). Still, I write this to stress that no OS is perfectly ready for power users (without root).

The "usual suspect" discussions about NSA are something like 10:1 against NSA. If there's an NSA sockpuppet army trying to influence HN, it's a good one, because there's no evidence of it.

Good influence won't simply be support for/against, but deflecting each viewpoint into a framework that upholds the status quo (making it impotent) and causing infighting between people who would otherwise find common ground.

The NSA doesn't influence standards by sockpuppeting "no crypto". They concern troll to add endless complexity, making implementations buggier and rarer.

In the HN NSA threads, the easiest example is encouraging argument between people who are in violent agreement that the NSA must be curtailed, but differ in approach. But instead of coding or grassroots activism, they're goaded into engaging each other on a message board!

Listen critically to "conservative" talk radio for a good general example - every segment starts off talking about problems that have grassroots concern (and that the "other side" would even sympathize with, just with lower priority). After the warm up to get listeners on board, the narrative switches to pigeonholing that anger away from systematic issues, and towards individual politicians and the "other side" that supports them.

So, you should be able to provide an example of an NSA thread on HN where a sockpuppet diverted the conversation to infighting between people otherwise sharing common ground.

I don't think standards groups need a lot of help concern-trolling complexity into standards. The exact same force is exerted on more benign standards; watch HTML for example.

Here's a rebuttal framework: select a NIST crypto standard and show an example of needless complexity and the discussion that led to it. I'll reply with an HTML working group thread that demonstrates the same thing. I'm pretty sure I'll win that contest, but we could try a few rounds just to see. How about we just do one?

I'm certainly not saying these behaviors are only due to conspiracy, as your response seems to be addressing. What I am saying is that the most effective and stealthy way of steering and disrupting conversation is to encourage these natural behaviors, and simultaneously calling out the organic infighting. Your previous assertion that discourse control would manifest as simple for/against is itself a straw man.

I'll own that my comment is a handywavy journey of rough assumptions, not an open and shut logical course. This is the case with any heuristic, and it's necessary navigate the unknowable (without waiting decades to get lucky for a leak to reveal specifics, at which point the method is ancient history anyway).

The way I see it, in 2014 the onus of proof is on someone who wishes to assert that discussions aren't being manipulated - if not by USG "itself", then by private companies looking out for their own interests. The only mechanism that would prevent corporate self-interest from evolving to this is individuals' morals, and given what we know about moral plasticity I don't see how that's any more than wishful thinking.

The irony is, I'm going further out on a limb, and at the same time making a falsifiable claim. Unlike you, I do not believe that the NSA subverts standards groups by injecting spurious complexity. I think there's a lot of spurious complexity in crypto standards (in fact, I think that for the most part, crypto standards are evil), but that it doesn't come from NSA.

There are archived mailing lists of many of these standards groups. We should be able to find an example of a potentially NSA-sourced complexity.

Remember when John Gilmore claimed that someone from the government had persuaded the IPSEC working group to misuse CBC IVs in order to weaken the standard? We found out who was behind that, and it clearly wasn't the NSA --- not only that, but they were part of a years-running clique of people degrading crypto standards out of what appears to be vanity and ignorance.

If you're a crypto standards body, I think vanity and ignorance is a much bigger threat than NSA.

(I think NSA did subvert at least one crypto standard, for what it's worth).

I would actually really love to see this. Could you find the HTML working group thread or does it have to be a competition?

I doubt he will respond to you. It's a pretty classic tactic to request citation from someone you know isn't prepared to offer it in order to defuse an argument. He doesn't have to offer citation, he only has to stop his opponent from appearing knowledgeable.

he doesn't need to be right, he only needs to make the other guy look wrong.

I've no doubt that people ask for citation in the manner suggested, but the gp had a resonable point. In the absense of evidence, it's better to assume what's going on is organic to online discussions.

If you've been on the internet for the last 10 years, this is easy to believe. If not, just visit the phoronix fourms. You'll be astounded by the batshit insane folks.

I mainly just wanted to see an analysis of needless complexity which is organically injected into committee-based standards processes because it could inform my own work which depends so heavily on them. Additionally, when so much of software engineering involves dealing with multiple stakeholders, understanding how people can "concern-troll" a useless or damaging requirement into the process might allow me to diffuse such a situation in the future.

Many on HN would like to show up tptacek. The lack of response speaks to the lack of evidence.


At no point has the interests of any company I've worked with dovetailed with the NSA's. That was a profoundly ignorant and obnoxious accusation to casually lob at anyone.

Yeah, but that's fine. Tptacek is not a sock-puppet, exactly because he's one guy with strong views. Yes, he has a lot of power here, and uses it to shape the discussion, but that's what we want! If we decide we don't like what he's doing, we can down-vote him to oblivion, or just ignore him.

The problem is when one person has 1500 accounts, and just uses them to direct the discussion, without actually contributing to it.

IIRC, tptacek just has a more nuanced position wrt NSA spying. It just often comes across as towing the Party line.

But that's certainly no reason to call him a sockpuppet. Frankly, if you think HN is pwned so hard that the highest-karma account is a sock puppet, why would you even bother? Maybe this whole board is just one giant programmatic timesink meant to waste your time and discourage you from doing something.


> * Maybe this whole board is just one giant programmatic timesink meant to waste your time and discourage you from doing something.*

As a kid I read a science-fiction short story to that effect --- a successful scientist discovers that he's being drawn into more and more university-committee work, etc., and thus has less and less time for his real work. He detects signs that "someone" (aliens?) is doing this intentionally, to all kinds of knowledge workers. Wish I could remember the title and author.

Sockpuppets confirmed on HN.

I often think your elequonce with the keyboard and Spock like logical argumentation sets people off by dropping 'cite bombs like debate star.

Nobody who knows me in real life would ever accuse me of being Spock-like.

Especially when having no citations of his own. It's mainly used as a tool to deflect the debate into a meta-debate about citation qualities.

I like the attempt at innuendo that says I'll have a hard time finding unproductive HTML working group discussions.

Except for your constant defence of them of course

I'd like to register my objection to the currently fashionable, yet toxic idea that when a point of view is only 95% stomped out that that is still a sign of "sock puppetry" and that the remaining dissent, rather than being celebrated, must be stomped out even harder... and then that this is treated as some sort of improvement of public discourse instead of an inevitable degradation of it.

This is, admittedly, not 100% a reply to any of the ancestors of this post, but, well, it's definitely an opportune time. Labeling all disagreement as "sock puppetry" is already a popular rhetorical dodge and this news is only going to make that worse. If you want real free discourse, you need real diversity of viewpoints and you need to foster that diversity, not insist on conformity.

If the only place that diversity is coming from truly is sock puppets, well, I would consider that a condemnation of the community in question. (And make sure you read that sentence very carefully before replying; it doesn't say "we should trust the sock puppets" (hardly!). It means that there should be diversity in the community, before we add in any viewpoints, right or wrong, expressed by sock puppets.)

I like this comment but also want to point out that I'm not even a dissenting voice about NSA surveillance.

Ok, I agree in general.

But the problem is that on the specifics, a few topics are indeed unanimous. You won't get diversity on those, and this is not a problem.

it's basically tptacek and mpyne against the world. for the most part i welcome contributors who aren't entirely biased.

unfortunately as even my own worst paranoia was not predictive enough, paranoia that has had me laughed at to my face and behind my back, given what's come out: it's very hard for me to react reasonably.

so people with a different bias to myself or others can greatly contribute to such discussions.

I think my comment may have sailed right over your head.

I think his comment also may have sailed right over your head. That or you're playing dumb. Either way, it's not working.

We're probably not worth it, we're a small community, and the part of that community that are actually and truly influential is smaller still, and wouldn't be doing their influencing by preaching to the HN choir. I'm sure we're monitored, at least automatically, but I doubt we're worth directing.

It's a very small echo chamber.

There should be a word for requests for data citations that are really just disguised admissions of having no meaningful response to a point.

I use the word "dodge" and that is one of a number of things people do to avoid having to deal with information they find difficult to process.

A while back, I decided to compile a list of these behaviors seen on a smaller, guilty pleasure type of site I enjoy. Here are the major ones seen very frequently:

1. Subject change

2. False comparison

3. Claim of too many opponents

4. Silence

5. Claim to either be a member of, or opponents of discussion being members of club, with said membership somehow required to complete what is otherwise a non-rational conclusion.

6. Claim of overall subject and or implications of subject complexity being greater than scope of discussion; therefore, it’s all a waste of time. (You would not understand)

7. Transformation of rational point at hand to emotional one.

8. The bible.

9. Redefinition of common words.

10. Personal attack.

11. Obsfucation. (however you spell it)

12. Excess verbosity.

What I did was post this, put names on it, including my own, and then start citing it when the behavior is seen.

I expected people to moderate the behaviors and perhaps improve dialog. What actually happened was the behaviors intensified! They created new ones, and started using them in combination:

Subject change, excess verbosity, silence was very common. Blow up the dialog to prevent realizations or consensus, then go silent to let it all fade away. Then do it again, and again...

Now, something good did happen. Participants who get it, tended to add their own observations to the list, and a bond formed between them. This helped differentiate the dialog some, and high clarity material, rational material was easier to identify and that dialog did improve.

But the noise makers also improved, making better noise, more frequently, division went up, and the overall tone of the place was harder to enjoy.

This led me to another realization:

We very often want to frame things as debate when the truth is we are often doing advocacy.

Advocacy has three components: Reason, character, emotion. Advocacy is a super set of debate.

Effective advocates employ all three and here is the kicker:

They will trump an effective debater in a dialog.

Interesting isn't it?

> silence

Is it really fair to call this a dodge? Not responding hardly means one has difficulty dealing with a post's information. It usually means it is not worth dealing with the poster, as their post may be tiresome, repetitive, abusive, trollish, etc.

There's a third reason for silence.

I may remain silent if someone's reply makes me reconsider my earlier opinion. In that case, I'll upvote them so that they can get some visibility if they don't already have it.

Almost all of those have genuine ambiguity. The context and overall intent matters.

Say a fairly rational and reasonable contributor goes silent. They are likely just not willing to invest the time.

Say a troll drops a bomb, disturbs the convo, goes silent, and does this regularly?

The first scenario is just ordinary human dialog. The second one is a dodge.

And in many cases it means that for reasons having nothing to do with the forum, the silent person doesn't have time to log on this weekend or is too tired, distracted etc to continue the debate.

Nice list. I try to reserve my downvotes for these behaviors especially excessive verbosity, redefinition of common words and other non-substanitive content. I think I am going to add the now common request for citation (seriously, you are on the Internet, google it yourself, man.) I am all about reading different points of view but they they should contribute something new.

Use the phrase "add value" for this. Calling for people to add value requires them to make material, original contributions to a dialog, not just quote, cut, paste and link.

Link dropping is the worst. People won't actually express themselves. They will just collect information and drop it into a dialog like a trump, or battle card, rendering the whole thing a mess.

A call to add value helps push back on garbage like this.

As for "Google it", that cuts both ways. It can be valid for a person to cite the burden of proof as being yours. If you are pushing something not peer-reviewed and logically sound, supporting what you say needs to be the dominant norm. More work for you, but if you establish that norm, it also means the clowns, asses, dullards, zealots, etc... will have a much harder time establishing overall group credence.

Not as simple as it seems, is it?

Good points, but I think I still disagree with the power of citations. Just because a peer-reviewed article exists doesn't mean its true. Appeal to authority is, and always will be, a logical fallacy.

But my beef with asking for citations as a counter-argument is that it is shifting the burden of proof. If someone makes a statement that you are questioning, you may ask for clarification, but the ball is in your court to find evidence for disproof. The existence or non-existence of a published supporting article is neither proof nor disproof.

> Good points, but I think I still disagree with the power of citations. Just because a peer-reviewed article exists doesn't mean its true. Appeal to authority is, and always will be, a logical fallacy.

Incorrect. "Appeal to authority" is a form of argument which is a fallacy when misused.

Further, a citation can be an appeal to authority, but usually its not, its incorporating an existing argument by reference and/or incorporating supporting evidence for the existing argument by reference.

> But my beef with asking for citations as a counter-argument is that it is shifting the burden of proof. If someone makes a statement that you are questioning, you may ask for clarification, but the ball is in your court to find evidence for disproof.

No, if someone is making a statement that you are questioning, it is quite fair to ask them to support the claim. As the one making the claim, the burden of proof is on them -- the position you take above is the one shifting the burden of proof off of the person asserting a positive claim.

Its true that making the opposing positive claim places the burden on you, but some simply stating something doesn't suddenly make it the default hypothesis. If there is no prima facie case for the positive claim, then it can be discarded as unnecessary without counterevidence, you don't need to prove the negation.

> The existence or non-existence of a published supporting article is neither proof nor disproof.

The content of the published supporting article, however, is often at least evidence, and may be proof where the question is subject to definitive proof, e.g. there exist no positive integers x, y, and z such that x^n + y^n + z^n = 0, for n > 2 [0].

[0] https://www.math.wisc.edu/~boston/869.pdf

Yes, in debate that is true.

In advocacy it is NOT TRUE. Let that sink in for a while... :)

Most of the time we are doing advocacy. Let that sink in too.

Now, let's discuss what that really means:

It means people who want their way more than they want to be right or just or true, etc... can and will dominate a discussion with effective advocacy techniques whether or not they have rational merit.

Secondly, emotional arguments are only partially rational, yet they carry very significant weight. Being logically right, yet having that result feel bad, or cruel, or unjust is a very significant part of policy discussions.

For an example, this is why libertarians often do not gain traction in many policy discussions. (no slight on liberitarians, just an example) They are typically, and often brutally rational, dismissing emotional and character arguments entirely.

Somebody who can read a room, employ effective advocacy, and who can provide emotional, character and a fair degree of rational support will win the day almost every time.

And just for review, advocacy consists of logical arguments, emotional ones and character of everyone touched by the argument.

People resonate on these three in varying degrees. Your average "Uncle Liberty" FOX news viewer, for example, will rely strongly on emotional and character arguments, only lightly touching the rational. (why is a much longer post, and again, no slight on FOX viewers, I'm just highlighting an easy example we've all seen)

That fetish completely marginalizes a person who is otherwise solid and in their best interests.

An effective advocate can leverage that and convince somebody to support a much worse person for them, on character and emotion alone.

Your technical, smart, rational geek with modest to poor people skills will not consider emotion very strongly at all, and will be marginal on character.

To them, somebody who is a vital part of the process, but who may not be technical, or reason quite as well as they do, will be marginalized on that basis.

Say we've got a smart person, who is fighting for the people, who happens to have a fetish. The fetish has nothing to do with their policy vision, but they will lose on character arguments every time.

Other examples should be obvious now.

So then, we need to step back and understand the purpose of the dialog. We may be thinking, "let's get at the truth", where a bunch of people may be thinking, "let's make it better" (which is a different thing), and some others may be thinking, "let's make it the way it ought to be."

Honestly, few people are interested in the truth in political discussions. They are more interested in seeing it go their way, or favor them, or see "those other people", "taught a lesson" more than anything else.

Advocacy rules here. The strictly rational doesn't. Sorry.

What does that mean?

Lots of things. First, it means debate isn't the norm most of the time, even though we frame things as such.

It also means stories matter. Yes, stories. Personal experiences are extremely potent advocacy.

Lots more here, but let's just say framing things in terms of debate isn't inclusive enough to be broadly effective given the dynamics of how advocacy actually does work.

Competitive debate is oration and rhetoric. It isn't necessarily pure logical argument, one employs theatrics and logical fallacy where they can get away with it. It is about winning, not shedding more light on the truth.

Really, this is advocacy. Abandon debate rules and norms and you are left with the art of persuasion, which is what advocacy is.

What most people don't seem to grok is advocacy tends to be the dominant norm, not debate.

Given that is true, emotional arguments, character arguments are valid right along with rational, fact based, data driven arguments.

An effective advocate will win most rooms, even against better armed rational debate types.

That is why trolling works.

> "What actually happened was the behaviors intensified!"

I've seen it work both ways. Sometimes, being direct about labeling and pointing out bad behavior shames the worst actors, and educates people who had been doing it accidentally. Other times, it simply becomes another tool for the worst actors to use -- just another way to attack. (See also: the fallacy fallacy.)

In my experience, the biggest factors in whether things seem to go uphill or downhill after pointing out versions of rhetorical dodging/avoidance are:

(1) does the community have good examples of people doing it right? Shaming bad behavior only works in conjunction with modeling good behavior. (This is one reason I dislike HN's hiding comment scores -- there's a visual indicator for what makes a bad comment, but no visual indicator for what makes an excellent comment. "Top comment on a post" is a fairly weak signal as it misses excellent child/grandchild/deeper comments.)

(2) do the moderators have "soft power" to go with their "hard power" -- that is, are they respected enough that they can successfully ask people to change their behavior without needing to threaten a ban?

(3) when the moderators (or downvotes or flags) come in, are they fair? Do they tend to target bad actors from all sides, or do they let Green Team's jerks get away with behavior that Purple Team's jerks get banned for?

(4) is the community as a whole already burned out? It can be much harder to change behaviors when people stopped caring long ago.


If I may add more labels to your list:

- "Rapid Deadline". Asking a question, making an argument, or posting a source/article and then making character attacks on opponents for having not answered even though not enough time has passed to reasonably expect answers. Or pretending like your point is agreed upon simply because it didn't get any responses in the first few minutes, and then arguing as if that point is now unassailable. This is particularly dangerous when one makes an argument that can take some time/thought/patience to respond to. (The only person I have blocked on FaceBook is an old friend who resorted to this tactic one too many times -- he'd post an article and then follow it up with insults about how I hadn't answered 3 minutes later, when the article took a good 10 minutes to read. Then he'd send private messages asking why I hadn't responded, and accusing me of cowardice.)

- "Not the real position". Using reasons you don't actually believe to advocate for something, such that even if all of those reasons are shot down, there's no possibility of changing your mind because your other, secret reasons haven't been answered.

- "Secret knowledge" (this might relate to your #5). Basically, you can't understand this unless you're of a particular race, gender, economic class, educational background, religion, etc. so I won't even attempt to explain it. (Often comes with statements like "check your privilege" or "alternate reality".)

- "I read your post backwards." (I had someone actually say this to me once!) Really, any sort of response that treats an opposing position as meaning something completely unrelated to what it was intended to mean. The classic line-by-line response sometimes has this property -- every sentence gets responded to, but somehow all of the really important points end up getting ignored.

Yes, that all rings true to me, particularly the fallacy fallacy part of it.

What the bad actors will do is just make noise with the dodges like they do everything else, "that's a dodge!" style, regardless of merit.

They don't care about merit, only volume and domination of the discussion.

And they don't care, because for them it's about affirmation, my club is the right club because I'm in it kind of thing. And if you aren't in my club, fuck you.

The place where I've been learning for years now has almost no moderation. Early on, I established some bonds and with some other group members, set some norms:

1. Support what you say

2. Words carry the weight you give them.

A "fuck you" often is returned with, "hugs and kisses, and how can I help you get it all out so you feel better?" kinds of responses. Those drive dominators, who don't have any material support for their advocacy, seriously nuts, while garnering popular support for the person returning fire in that fashion, BTW. Beautiful.

On the other hand, "I am disappointed in you" from a valued and respected contributor packs a big punch!

3. Offensive words are as offensive as you think they are.

This means profanity, etc... are OK.

Always being civil works in interesting ways. One way is that clearly bent positions, like say bigotry, are elevated to "just another valid opinion" and that will resonate to "everybody has a right to their opinion" kinds of things.

The truth is, we do have that right, but we don't have the right to be respected for those opinions.

So the other norm ended up being:

4. Act the ass, get called an ass. Don't like it? Don't be an ass.

Quite effective at marginalizing trolls, given the group really does understand the other norms.

Moderation is something I struggle with frankly. It is nearly always gamed or abused. Take an always be nice rule. That means being nice to the racist too. Really? Maybe being a racist should cost a person some, and they might potentially reconsider racism.

On the other hand, moderating criminal posts is necessary.

Your additions are good ones!

I have not encountered "backwards", lol! Not sure what I would have done with that one. Yes, "secret" is all about #5. Rapid deadline is another good one.

That list was an abbreviated one. Most popular kind of thing.

I feel the same way about votes as I do moderation. Those are nearly always gamed.

Both moderation and votes work well when politics and religion are not part of the discussion. Here at HN, I do see the equivalent in some economic discussions, where there is basically some religion in play, but it's minor by comparison to many other places.

What I prefer is some strong voices able to take it better than people give it, who can set norms and manage things toward some productive end.

Problem with that is bias. There is always bias. It takes considerable numbers of us working over a sustained amount of time to be mostly free of bias.

Rather than attempt to claim no bias, I believe it's better to just embrace it, and then attempt to find common ground without actually having to say people are wrong or bad.

> There should be a word for requests for data citations that are really just disguised admissions of having no meaningful response to a point.

I'd be careful about this one. People don't always have the same news sources, so what constitutes "common knowledge" for one person might be alien to another.

Personally, I expect myself to be able to provide a citation for anything reasonably controversial or not widely known and I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with asking someone to show their work.

After all, there's the opposite side of this coin: someone who isn't giving evidence because they cannot. I mean, if I claim to have a unicorn in my garage, I can't reasonably expect everyone to accept it on my say-so. I know that's not at all the scenario you have in mind, but I think you'd hate to have someone engaged in such behavior justifying it with your logic when that's not what you meant at all.

A citation to what? When few are allowed to publish, and what is submitted to be published is heavily filtered, and the final articles are being paywalls, how can a plea for citations be a legitimate request?

If you are claiming you have a unicorn in your garage, I don't want citations - I want EVIDENCE. A picture would be a fine place to start. I can't imagine any citation being of value either pro or con. In a discussion I want to read evidence or reason - everything else is filler.

> A citation to what? When few are allowed to publish,

I think you just exposed the root of this.

You're thinking a citation has to be a scientific paper or something equivalent. I'm saying that when you argue something, you should be willing to cite ordinary evidence, of which a scientific paper is just one kind.

A photo would be a perfectly reasonable thing to cite as evidence.

Notably, I also found out a few other dynamics:

Personification trumps vilification and ridicule.

Let's take something really ugly, like abortion. People will post up the ugly pictures and they will post up their favorite slogans, and they will denigrate opponents with brutalities like, "baby killer"

This kind of noise completely destroys rational advocacy / debate on the topic, which is why religion and politics are often discouraged in technical and other discussion venues.

Now, personify it. I took a story from Brazil where a 9 year old girl was raped by her father, her mother wanted to get an abortion for her, and the church, state, father and others wanted to deny the girl that.

Instead of the usual advocacy path, I asked people what they personally would say to the little girl who doesn't want to carry a pregnancy.

This required they simulate the scenario, and express their thoughts as actions, or virtual actions in this case, rather than just pull out their favorite "pokemon battle card" type sayings...

Amazingly, the dialog split into two camps!

The majority of participants answered honestly, and were quite disturbed at the experience. The majority said they would not tell the little girl no, regardless of their personal beliefs / preferences. It was the human thing to do.

For those ideologues who were being absolutist about it, they would not answer, because they would reveal cracks in their black and white vision of things, so they vilified instead! And it was intense.

The rest of the group turned on them, and they got shouted down. Secondly, that experience changed the group dynamics. Abortion noise is no longer tolerated like it was before. It's potency as a distraction is now much less in that venue. The personification really impacted people.

Edit: One absolutist actually said the right answer was to cut the girl open after she has carried the baby far enough along to be viable. The group response to this was harsh, and they were banned.

I personally took a lot of heat for that disturbing approach and had to apologize for the rough dialog. And I did, citing my interest in finding out what trumps what. This was well received, but the whole thing was expensive emotionally.

Honestly, this is one of the few times I've ever seen the noise machine beat back into submission like that.

Lesson there somewhere.

(Yes, this is an area of interest of mine, and I've been running little experiments for some time as the problem identified in this thread is growing rapidly and we have few answers. I find the use of data intriguing, and I plan to do some reading to better understand what other options we may have.)

I doubt there is much written on this. It is a very new area (other that the traditional logic fallacies which still work as well as they always have) and if there is serious research being done it is probably proprietary - it's more valuable to use it secretly. Your work is some the best I've seen on online conversation manipulation. Keep up the good work.

Well, maybe I should publish. I'm not sure how, or what an appropriate context is.

After mulling your comment over, I realize the best path on this might be to provide open information. This is likely to operate under the same kinds of dynamics information security currently does.

So, let me just put it out there, maybe sort of a mini "Ask HN?"

Really, I'm unsure how to proceed. I understand quite a bit about this and after a quick look around, I may well be quite a ways into this stuff without having realized it...

I started about 8 years ago. Found a smaller venue where all but criminal speech is OK. Moderation is very light, and the number of participants is modest, say 20 very regular contributors and another 50 or so transient ones.

Consistency in the regulars makes for a great control, and there is a discussion archive for analysis and data over time. I used this archive along with various experiments to better understand how this all works.

Being able to go back through archives, look at intent, outcomes, dynamics and a fairly regular set of recurring, high pain topics, meant being able to run a few different scenarios with a reasonable control.

The other thing I did was take ideas from those adventures and apply them professionally as well as on much larger, higher prominence venues.

Overall, I was able to impact dialogs, sometimes to a considerable degree, and others have expressed interest as you have.

For some considerable time, I've been aware of the "sock puppet" type activity, as well as another interesting dynamic where people aligned with some political and economic forces actually take on a fairly professional type role without realizing it. They take the "battle cards" they are given and use them more frequently than they do contribute original content.

Affirmation and confirmation run high in the list of gratifying social media / forum type experiences.

People enjoy the sport of it, but they also use that sport to affirm themselves too. This makes things personal on a level we aren't talking about very much.

Here's a sample:

Take a mind. Barring some abuse, it's a potent mind, able to reason and understand fact vs opinion, etc...

Now, say that mind lies for whatever reason. What happens? The mind is now fragmented, or compartmentalized into the whole, vital, rational portion, and another portion that is associated with the lie. Reason is now somewhat broken and or diminished as the mind has to manage it's lie to avoid being caught on it, and one implication of that is extreme difficulty having dialogs that cross a boundary.

This is seen when seemingly rational people break down on a topic, based on a trigger word, etc... They quite literally can't resolve it normally due to the fact that who they are is all mixed up with this lie and the need to manage it.

Ordinarily, this kind of thing can resolve when it's made OK for them to own the lie, punch through, heal, let the compartment dissolve, and they are once again whole, not impacted by any of that mess.

So now take that dynamic and consider when somebody elevates faith to fact, or buys into some propaganda and associates that with positive affirmation for themselves. Say they are a bigot, or something, and rather than doing the work to resolve the bigotry and grow as a human, they seek affirmation and confirmation for the bigotry.

How much is that ongoing affirmation worth to them, compared to owning a character issue?

Turns out, that is worth a lot! They will write the letter, cast the vote, call the friend, buy the product, and so forth to support that source of normalization.

In this way, advocacy is more powerful than debate, due to the fragmented reason limiting the potency of debate and it's rational basis. Worse, advocacy coupled with propaganda and a lot of repetition can solidify these compartments or boundaries leaving people rigid and unable to process contradictory information!

We end up with a more polarized dialog and when we look across the scope of major issues, actually reaching common ground, or some consensus becomes personal! It's quite literally a threat to somebody on a basic level to join up with their peers and do something we can live with as opposed to, "the right thing" as they may happen to see it!

Meaning, this isn't about being wrong or right. There rarely are clear "right" options, but there are often good or livable or just better options. However, we can't make progress on nearly any front due to the fact that people have linked their self definition of their own worth and character to lies, propaganda, etc...

I've identified a lot of these, how they work, how to recognize them, and techniques (more are needed) to make dialog more productive.

And on that last point, more productive dialog should be the goal, not "who is right", simply due to these factors in play. Since nearly everything is polarized and rendered personal, progress is a material threat to a very large number of us.

Ok, enough of that. I could write pages...

What I don't know is how to approach sharing that would do some good and or have some credence. Given the relative lack of information, I can share examples, provide some general data, techniques, etc...

I'm open to any and all suggestions.

Some topics could be:

Understanding the difference between advocacy and debate.

What to do when others try to make their problems your problems, or make you personally part of the dialog with the intent to intimidate or make you more open to personal attacks and marginalization.

Establishing group norms.

Understanding offensive speech is as offensive as any of us personally thinks it is.

Weighing dialog. Should you worry when a clown calls you out as an ass? How about when a close friends does the same? What is the difference and what does that mean for online dialog?


Edit: A simple way to process the above is to realize politics, and advocacy type dialog of any kind is a contact sport. When we can speak from a position of relative security, we speak freely and we also can accept being wrong, or contribute to and accept consensus.

However, when we are insecure? We solidify around those things that bolster us, good and bad.

So the goal of these manipulations, and they are manipulations more than they are censorship, is to make people insecure by linking who they are to all the issues, which increases the pain of the "contact", motivating them to divide and gather in ways that resonate with and enable the goals of the manipulators. Because they are linked to it personally, they also find it very difficult to back out, "heal", or come to new or common realizations, rendering the discussion of alternatives, or maybe just "better" options a threat when those may actually be in their best interests.

So much here... It's nice that despite all the nonsense to be found on Internet posts, there can be some quality thought if you patiently wade through the junk first.

I know what you mean about how best to share your work. I am sitting on a bunch of AI research that others might be interested in and I am not sure how best to document and share, especially while not working in academia. A book, video, or web site maybe? I have no good ideas on that, only sympathy.

I think your experimental data is fantastic, but I have different hypotheses on the mechanism and motivation of the players.

We are creatures of reason which is great, but we still are susceptible to errors in judgement. These are small and mostly manifest as solidifying a conclusion prematurely.

But we are also social animals that have an inherent drive to find and defend our place in the pecking order. We display dominance to those beneath us and submission to those above.

The strategies of online conflict are varied and mirror those of offline conflict, but the core social desire is the same: to win the favor of our masters and weaken our lessers, unless we are forced to think for ourselves and become aware of the folly of it all.

Again, after mulling it over, I think both our models have significant merit, and they are incomplete.

Errors mostly have no personal reinforcement. They get corrected mostly over time. Agreed.

What I was getting at is a more deliberate error, or a forced one. The deliberate error is something like seeking affirmation for a character issue. Racist seeks reinforcement for racism rather than enlightenment to get past racism. The forced error could be something like an authoritarian childhood elevating dogma to fact, seriously impacting that person and their ability to grow and be objective.

Dominance / submission does drive a lot. And I do see a very clear connection between that and online dialog in that people who maybe are subs in most of their life get online and are free to be that dom they dream about being...

I tend to disagree about "the core social desire", but I do agree about it being "a social desire", among many other ones.

...but I have different hypotheses on the mechanism and motivation of the players.

Of course you do!

This kind of discussion needs to be out in the open to a far greater degree than it currently is.

Your last statements are good food for thought. Thanks.

Likewise on sympathies.

This thread has got me thinking on ways to put some basic information out there in the hopes of a greater dialog.

This thread is blowing my mind. Please continue to share.

I really like the idea that models are often formed prematurely and the reference to pokemon cards. One metaphor I use allot is that our values are like a deck of cards, some values are ranked higher then others. The ranking is determined in part by a recursive function (shuffling or playing a game of go fish) but also by functional requirements to justify the current mode of survival. A person tends to perceive their values in a way that justifies their actions (and vice versa). When modelling different Christian denominations you could consider each verse and interpretation as a card. The card game in play ensures that a church group ends up with a large chunks of each hand looking similar. The attraction of individuals to a particular church has allot to due with how well those cards advocate that person's life.

Doesn't that just work? What? You hit me with a baby killer +2? Here's a fuck the poor +5, how do you like them apples?

lol It really seems that way so often to me.

And yes! Bible verses. That is where the Pokemon thing in me came from. Was on a thread, and one of 'em dropped a verse, and soon, it was just like a game.

So I dropped Marley 4:20, you all fuck off and left. Not the best form, I know. But gratifying because that did blow up the little game and it was a total dodge in the form of massive subject change to pot.

Justification and affirmation drive huge amounts of the dialog.

Here's something from my own life you might find interesting, and this is the root of some of what I write here.

Coming out of school, and out of a hate church, I was left with some homophobia and some angst over biracial marriage of all things.

Met a good friend at work. She and I clicked, and eventually the running conversation bumped into both of those and she nailed me big.

Right there is a moment of character of sorts. For me, I could see it wrong, and I could see I really should improve, so I did. Took that stuff on the drive home and questioned all of it. Eventually resolved it for my own reason, which was just to be of better character, and it was done.

But, people can choose to defend, and if they do, they head down that path of justification and affirmation and part of their self-definition gets linked to specific issues policy vision kinds of things.

In my case, the debate mattered. I valued the other person, and they me, and so there was no real shame sorting it out. I was from a small town, and honestly, that kind of thing can just happen.

But, I could have taken another path then, and I could imagine myself today crippled in the debate because I would have a very deep, personal investment in making sure some specifics I need to feel good about who I am stay in place.

> Well, maybe I should publish. I'm not sure how, or what an appropriate context is.

If you don't mind revealing your identity, arxiv.org should be a good choice. It allows online publishing with open access for free without peer-review, and it is used by academic researchers a lot (including myself).

In case you prefer to stay anonymous, you may try to send them an email explaining the reasons for that.

> One of the more curious things you can do on HN to distract from a story is to start a tangential flamewar in the comments on it, but my single favourite way I see to bury things around here is to ask for detailed citations to data for something which really doesn't need it, as that results either in a flamewar or if left the post loses any momentum completely.

Being very meta do you have any links? HN being open it shouldn't be hard to do an analysis. I guess you aren't claiming it is being done but it could be done, but I don't see this as a problem.

Like, if this was happening, a blog with evidence would rank pretty well for karma points, but it hasn't been done.

AFAIU flamewars increase the discussion on a topic, so this makes a story much more likely to stay on frontpage.

The danger of flamewars is that they rapidly devolve to personal attacks. When threads devolve this far, it keeps intelligent people from joining the conversation and actually elevating it. 10,000 monkeys with 10,000 typewriters may create a best seller, but 10,000 raving lunatics with Internet connections destroy any chance of an intellectual conversation....:)

I recall that the site has some flamewar detection algorithm that will penalize a story if it detects a flamewar. I don't have a source for this at the moment, though.

Here: http://www.righto.com/2013/11/how-hacker-news-ranking-really...

"In order to prevent flamewars on Hacker News, articles with "too many" comments will get heavily penalized as "controversial". In the published code, the contro-factor function kicks in for any post with more than 20 comments and more comments than upvotes. Such an article is scaled by (votes/comments)^2. However, the actual formula is different - it is active for any post with more comments than upvotes and at least 40 comments. Based on empirical data, I suspect the exponent is 3, rather than 2 but haven't proven this."

One can't also tell the difference between subterfuge trolling and plain up trolling. It would be nice to use machine learning in a multidimensional conversation scoring system so that tired hollow techniques at conversation manipulation would fade in to the background noise.

> but more visibly with the employees of certain companies.

I'm amazed how obvious this is on Reddit now, and always laugh when I bring it up and get down voted to oblivion :)

I'm no expert, but it's clear NetFlix has a few thousand users in /r/movies for example.

Netflix also has however many thousands of normal users there.

Sure, but do you honestly love any product you pay for enough to continuously post about it? Has consumerism really come to that?

And instead of saying "Go for a drive on Highway 1 because it's beautiful", have you ever said "Take your Ford on Highway 1, because a Ford is the best way to see it" ?

(Every second post on /r/movies is "check <movie>, on Netflix NOW!")

You left off just plain downvoting. I've seen some fairly benign comments on certain topics go down to -3 or -4 in a hurry with no counterpoint given. Stuff the collective here will often ignore or debate, but down it goes.

This is why I'm not particularly thrilled about programs passing the Turing test. As soon as we have programs that can write credibly human-sounding comments on sites like this, many conversations will be controlled by whoever can afford the largest sockpuppet farm. Also, for every post on the actual threads of interest, there will be dozens of comments on every thread designed to increase karma. Automated karma whoring might even be more injurious than the direct intervention, because it will increase the groupthink tendencies already present.

Some might say we're already half way there. I disagree. Yes, Google or Apple employees might swamp an occasional thread here and there, either openly or covertly, but what I'm talking about would be a whole order of magnitude worse and constant.

Somehow you reminded me this XKCD: http://xkcd.com/810/


It seems like any kind of mass-comment system would be easy to detect. Simply limiting the post rate and comparing to other posts would work just like current anti-span filters now.

Limiting what post rate? If it's coming from a farm it could have the same distribution as real people. If you read the article, you'll see that it's not about spam. It's about astroturf, and not even the kind where you just get a people to repeat your talking points. There are more subtle ways of diverting attention toward a legitimate message you find favorable, or away from a message you'd rather have people forget. That's all much harder for an automated system to detect, and the karma-whoring part harder still.

Look at some of the other comments on this very thread. Not the top vote-getters, but the ones that must have gotten two or three upvotes apiece. Several of those could easily have been generated by an AI designed to rephrase an already-popular view, perhaps with a pop culture reference or two thrown in to make it seem more authentic. Voila, instant karma, which can then be used in the ways the original presentation suggested to influence who reads what.

It only seems easy until you spend five minutes thinking about it.

It is the same problem as credit card fraud detection on an ecommerce site. Naive stuff is easy, as the fraud gets more sophisticated it is indistinguishable from human traffic. It isn't just that bots will post stories, but the bots are controlled by persona-amplification software, so a single person could control 100+ bots, tweaking and modifying their behavior while keeping a 2k view of the conversation.

I read a fairly compelling Doctorow short (possibly I, Rowboat?) which posited that that origin of AIs was spam filtration. By creating an ongoing cat-and-mouse game between spambots and anti-spambots, a selective pressure was accidentally created from which intelligent language-using agents emerged.

This is if all the comments came from the same IP and if the puppeteer was stupid enough to post all the comments at once.

Additionally if the AI can beat the turing test then comparing the posts would not be practical. Passing the turing test signifies that it is not possible to distinguish the comments from human comments by looking at the comments alone.

You don't need to detect a machine, astroturfing now is mostly a manual process.

Recognizing the same topics repeated is enough, even if it happens over time. The longer the time between posts, the less effective the campaign. The less cohesive the topic, the less effective the campaign. This already exists somewhat, machine or human is almost irrelevant.

I had an anti-Obamacare Republican canvasser show up at my door during election season, and ended up debating for about an hour on the front porch. Though it was an enjoyable and intelligent discussion (far from the stereotype of the Tea Party), I couldn't help but realize that I effected a 1-to-1 "time attack" that drained his ability to canvass voters who actually had a snowball's chance of voting for his candidate.

For better or worse, that seems to be an attack vector in a free marketplace of ideas: finding ways to burn the time and energy of your opponent. (See also: "outrage fatigue".)

This is one of the major goals of trolling -- trying to get someone to waste a lot of time trying to convince someone who isn't actually interested goes side by side with trying to get someone to waste a lot of emotion on someone who doesn't actually care. Part of what makes it so effective is that it can be hard to distinguish from genuine concern (ie, you found it an enjoyable and intelligent discussion, but a troll might act the same as you did purely to waste the canvasser's time and not actually care about the topic at hand.)

One of my rules is that, if someone seems to be trying to get me to invest considerably more time or energy than they're investing, I'll only engage if I find the process of researching/writing about a given topic valuable in and of itself.

These days I usually write about things I want to understand (through writing), not things I already understood. I like to thing this approach is immune to trolling.

The first thing this article reminded me of was ghost in the shell season 2. In the show the Intelligence Agency of the government used this sort of info manipulation to increase animosity towards refugees to the point where the public was in support of basically slaughtering them.

In the show this agency also analyzed public opinion using info obtained from discussion forums to gauge the public's acceptance of government policy and they would use the information manipulation with sock puppets to change public opinion in their favor.

One of the best shows ever. The whole Stand Alone Complex concept is kind of unique to GitS, is it?

Edit: Oh and btw, ghost in the lisp: http://medias.ircam.fr/x03b42f

RPG talking about his work on the mass media manipulation machine of DARPA.

Yes and no[0]. For reference, the definition of a Stand Alone Complex from wikipedia [1]:

Stand Alone Complex (スタンド・アローン・コンプレックス Sutando Arōn Konpurekkusu) eventually came to represent a phenomenon where unrelated, yet very similar actions of individuals create a seemingly concerted effort.

The ideology of radical Islam from the viewpoint of neoconservatives in the USA in the 00 decade was of "shadowy underground terrorist cells all linked together and we should all be afraid of it", when in reality it was much more akin to the Stand Alone Complex: disparate radical groups all over the world used a common idea to act on their own but without communicating to one another. When viewed by the intelligence community, of course they weren't independent isolated events influenced by the same root idea; they were a centralized enemy. They projected thwir own centralized nature to the fragmented radical Islamic movement of the early 00's. Eventually, that radical Islamic movement grew into the identity provided them by the intelligence community as a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts.

[0]So yes in name, no in practice if you buy into the viewpoint above.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philosophy_of_Ghost_in_the_Shel...

Ah ok maybe I overcomplicated the concept in my head. I had assumed the SaC to describes something more tech related, e.g.:

"Stand Alone Complex (スタンド・アローン・コンプレックス Sutando Arōn Konpurekkusu) eventually came to represent a phenomenon where unrelated, yet very similar actions of individuals and/or software bugs, plus other coincidental events create a seemingly concerted effort and/or seem to mimic or behave like an intelligent actor."

E.g. as a software guy I imagined bugs so interdependent and complex that accidentally implement an AI. Yep i'm a programmer alright. ;)

To take this a bit further, as far as I know, the question of what constitutes a mind is still an open question. Ie: where does the "mind" live in us? Is emergent minds, like that displayed by a ant colony, really a mind, in the same sense that we have minds?

One of the hard things about [ed: (military)] intelligence, [gathering] is that it is very hard to ask the right questions. You can sometimes find the "right" answers to the "wrong" questions -- and convince yourself you know what's going on -- while in reality you're interacting with a shadow-reality of partially your own creation.

For example: oppress and invade, deploy divide and conquer tactics across unconnected populations that share some cultural values -- and you'd probably be able to create a stand a alone complex in the form of the resistance that forms. Then that might latter merge into a true complex, as the various independent parts realize that they have a somewhat common agenda... Maybe we'll see the new Star Wars films inadvertently expand on this theme, judging by how they're setting up the story with then animated "Star Wars: Rebels" series? :-)

Highly recommend the newest prequel installation of Ghost in the Shell, GitS: Arise: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghost_in_the_Shell:_Arise

This applies just as aptly to peoples perception of government or corporate behavior as it does to anything else. IMO the ability to rationally analyze or predict outcomes basically goes away once people forget that the fundamental unit of cognition and influence on this planet is and remains the human mind, not the corporation, agency or government - things which are emergent phenomenons of many individuals interacting.

I.e. it is a mistake to think that 'intelligence agencies' could not make this same analysis if you can.

This is more insidious than I think even most HN readers realize. In the intelligence community, the big black sheep people don't really talk about is psychological operations, or psyops, units. They are the same breed that used research from MK ULTRA style programs to learn how to deprogram humans (some claims on how to reprogram them), and part of that is a scientific analysis of mass social community discourse. Previously, domestic propaganda was illegal, though it was often engaged in anyway now that the law against domestic propaganda has been rescinded that means the remnants of older programs like Operation Mockingbird, where the CIA inserted people into news outlets across the board for intel gathering and disinfo pushing, have now evolved to a level where they are actively manipulating public discourse on all kinds of subjects.

A very good example of this is the post JFK assassination issue. It's pretty clear to any intellectually honest person that there are some very large issues that were never addressed regarding the assassination, because the CIA purposeful put into action an operation to discredit any alternative theory's as "conspiracy theory" and anyone who talked in that manner was labeled as a crackpot "conspiracy theorist" and then a large campaign to undermine any logical discussion of "conspiracy theory", essentially by putting it, as Chomsky would say, "outside the accepted range of debate".

Wonder why the fourth estate, aka journalism is in such a sad state of affairs? It's because the state has reached (quietly) so far into it that even the handful of real journalist are having a hard time.

They have keep up technologically to keep sources safe, which proves almost impossible these days. They have to deal with pushback from the editors bosses of a glarily political nature, they have to deal with being cut off from sources if they happen to piss off the wrong people with a too-strong story.

This is another reason the surveillance society is so insidious. I have said it before and I will say it again, surveillance, censorship, subtle covert influence of public discourse, are not about security.

It's about control.

A lot of people argue about 1984 vs Brave New World. What I say is that it's a Brave New World, unless you attempt to resist, then it's 1984. This is the state we live in, the real question is "Are the people going to let this happen?"

I'm no longer so reliant on the "long arc of justice", and am getting pretty pessimistic.

> This is the state we live in, the real question is "Are the people going to let this happen?"

I am terrified of mental manipulation. My only inclination and direction is to train my mind to be an independent blank slate. There's also an odd web that forms, the direction of information flows, word choice, word frequency, like it ping pongs in between groups of people. The form of abstract ideas, the direction of thought. These things can be studied.

>The form of abstract ideas, the direction of thought. These things can be studied.

Indeed you are on to something there. I have long called for a return to our Enlightenment roots for just that reason. It encourages an independent and able mindset, which is precisely why education has been deliberately manipulated in to preventing any such thing.

Education of the populace is not in the interest of the international or domestic oligarchs. Remember this.

I don't think anyone really does it on purpose. A truly independent mind can be a terrifying thing. It can make you feel disconnected, isolated, insane, or stupid.

I have observed the flow of information through people for a long time. I find myself incredibly tired of studying this. It shows nothing of an individual's depth, their character, their individual personality. It's the shadow on the cave.

>A truly independent mind can be a terrifying thing. It can make you feel disconnected, isolated, insane, or stupid.

You get used to it because you remember the science:



The difficult thing is figuring out how much of it is insidious and dangerous and how much of it is The Men Who Stare at Goats.

The problem is that we like to imagine the hippy version of the Men Who Stare at Goats, but that's not the reality of the kind of people who kill for a living. More aptly, The Men Who Stare at Goats ... and try to kill them.

Doesn't make them any less dangerous or insidious, perhaps even more so! Hanlon's razor may be a strawman that should be put in the dustbin of rational conversation, but nevertheless do not doubt the malice hidden within incompetence.

Journalism is in bad shape because, thanks to big data/metrics, companies figured out clickbait makes more money than hard news or investigative journalism.

My new online-conversation digestion involves reading the posts from the bottom up these days. I've found this yields interesting results, with what I consider the most interesting posts being towards the bottom, and the 'always-agreeable' generic karma-magnet posts at the top.

“What is truth? For the multitude, that which it continually reads and hears.” ― Oswald Spengler, The Decline of the West, Vol. 2: Perspectives of World History

“The press today is an army with carefully organized weapons, the journalists its officers, the readers its soldiers. The reader neither knows nor is supposed to know the purposes for which he is used and the role he is to play.” ― Oswald Spengler

"Wonder why the fourth estate, aka journalism is in such a sad state of affairs? It's because the state has reached (quietly) so far into it that even the handful of real journalist are having a hard time."

I'm sorry to tell you but it's the very nature of capitalism to consume everything in it's path. Corporations are authoritarian institutions. The idea that there ever existed some balanced press or balanced capitalism is a consistent fantasy among the vast majority of people including intelligent ones like yourself. The more history you know, the more those people around you look uneducated.

The "balance" in capitalist societies is a myth that needs to be broken.



Look at that chart, that means the powers that be have been crushing the public for 200+ years, every time getting there way and the "moderates" and "balancers" like yourself are totally clueless.

Also the bailout:


Overthrowing governments



"I helped make Mexico, especially Tampico, safe for American oil intersts in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefits of Wall Street. The record of racketeering is long. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. In China I helped to see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested." [p. 10]

"War is a racket. ...It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives." [p. 23] "The general public shoulders the bill [for war]. This bill renders a horrible accounting. Newly placed gravestones. Mangled bodies. Shattered minds. Broken hearts and homes. Economic instability. Depression and all its attendant miseries. Back-breaking taxation for generations and generations." [p. 24]

The 9 trillion dollar bank bailout


Libor scandal


Rule of law is impossible under capitalism, since the kings of business (he who has the gold makes the rules) get to do whatever they want and the public gets fucked.


Regulating capitalism has totally failed:


First of all, I would like to point out that when you say capitalism, it is a much more nuanced term than you seem to be inferring. Which kind of capitalism? Crony capitalism? What about Workers capitalism? A much different thing than the generic stereotypical capitalism you seem to be talking about. Why yes, of course, unbridled capitalism tends to swallow up more and more, sometimes exponentially and in a way that threatens the Constitution... which is exactly why, though the balance does not exist (and nor did it ever in the past, as you say, fully exist), but I see no logical reason to give up on the idea that we the people, under the power of just law, with a properly elected and sufficiently representative legislative of the people, could implement a balance heretofore unseen, prosperous for the American economy and it's people.

You seem to argue against points I never made. Yes, they have been "crushing the public", for quite some time. though, first of all, you need to define what you mean when you accuse someone of being some label. What exactly do you mean by "moderates" and "balancers". Do you mean to say there should be no balance with the accumulation of capital and the private hands that prosper because of it, with the number affected of such and the degree to which they hold uneven power over the surrounding less fortunate populace? Would you toss away all private profit and push a purely socialistic system? For that is what you seem to be advocating here.

As an aside, it is of note that there have been ebbs in flows in this power dynamic, and I would argue that the American System and FDR were the closest thing we have come to so far as a proper, pragmatically implemented and physically verifiable program that does not only exist in theory as you seem to argue such prosperity and balance does.

I am a USMC combat veteran of the Iraq war, of a long line of military men. I am very aware of Smedley Butler and admire him as one of the best Marines to have ever lived, and his writings are considered essential reading. I'm sure you are also aware of the Business Plot he helped thwart?

Perhaps I think I may have misunderstood you earlier. We both agree that unbridled capitalism is bad, due to it's destructive nature, yes? Ok then, it must be brought under a degree of control then. (The degree of which would be debatable.) How does one do that? Through the use of the state. It's the 3 branches of government that need to be involved in the righting of these wrongs, but the problem is that we have allowed the same entities behind the supposedly failed Business Plot to just go dark and perform the coup more silently and in particular through the very business of capitalism and finance itself! When these items are properly governed for the good of the people they can be used as a force for good, and in unknown shadowy hands they can be used for bad.

I see no proposals of your own, though I eagerly await them. Mine would be based upon the Constitution. I'm not sure I fully comprehend your stance due to your ambiguity, but just be aware that anything unconstitutional should a priori be discarded.

P.S. Just because something is broken doesn't mean it should be tossed in the trash. Many things can stand repair, and I think our Constitutional Democratic Republic is one of them.

"Which kind of capitalism? Crony capitalism? What about Workers capitalism? A much different thing than the generic stereotypical capitalism you seem to be talking about."

I'm sorry but this reasoning is fallacious nonsense. No true Scotsman is an informal fallacy, an ad hoc attempt to retain an unreasoned assertion.

Calling something complex and nuanced != no true scotsman.

The evidence says capitalism cannot be balanced:


The 9 trillion dollar bank bailout https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eVjz1OyBJCc

Libor scandal


Like I said... The rule of law is impossible under capitalism, since the kings of business (he who has the gold makes the rules) get to do whatever they want and the public gets fucked.

I've made this point before about search engine ranking. Most of the popularity signals used by search engines can be, and are, faked. I have two papers on this:

"Social is bad for search, and search is bad for social" (2012), or how Google's use of social signals backfired, badly. http://www.sitetruth.com/doc/socialisbadforsearch09.pdf

How Google's use of social signals backfired, badly.

"'Places' spam - the new front in the spam wars", or how Google's use of "local" information backfired. "http://www.sitetruth.com/doc/placesspam10.pdf" (2010)

Google's merge of data from Google Maps into the main search engine results created a whole new branch of local SEO spam.

The fundamental problem is that the creation of fake online identities is cheap and easy. This can be partially fixed by taking a tough line on identity, but that's hard for services which are either big or have only a casual connection with their users. Facebook ran into the gay agenda enforcing a real names policy.

The mobile guys can at least make people buy a phone to fake an identity. (A phone number is not enough; you can rent fake phone numbers. See "http://www.attlines.com) An app that phones home with too much user information, though, is hard to fake cheaply. Yelp can tell if your phone has been to the place you're rating.

> the gay agenda

I'm not sure if you know about this, but this is typically a term of derision and a strawman by anti-gay and homophobic groups.


+1; there are also lots of other marginalized groups of people who stand to lose something if aliases cannot be used.

Edit: for example: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/sep/29/faceboo...

Larger and more concise list: Who is harmed by a "Real Names" policy?


Yes but this comes from Geek Feminism wiki, so you have to read it as such:

Someone I like is forced to not be anonymous: oppression. Someone I dislike is forced to not be anonymous: justice.

No you don't. Evaluate the statement independently of who is making it. Just because someone calls themselves "feminist" while making a claim doesn't mean you should invalidate their claim.

2013's "Most Reddit Addicted City" was Eglin Air Force Base.


Air Force Bases are also full of technologically inclined 18 to 25 year old men, i.e the Reddit demographic.

I'm not sure how alarmed I am by this. I certainly have seen this in action on Wikipedia at least, if not on the scale described, but I have little doubt it occurs and I can think of a couple events whose online conversations show evidence of this sort of manipulation.

To some degree I admit, when I see the overwhelming online conversation swaying in one direction, it does influence. On the other hand, partially because I know online conversation manipulation is out there, I become less prone to read comments. I used to always read comments to Economist articles for example, now I rarely do.

Ultimately, if there is online conversation manipulation but people barely pay attention to it, it will be overwhelmed by all the other random sources of influence in our lives. Whether, traffic, etc. all play some influence on our opinions, if the impact of the online conversation manipulation is less than that, I am not alarmed.

There are two other aspects of this worth thinking about:

1. What is the problem we have with online conversation manipulation? Is it the sock-puppets alone? If you replace sock-puppets with volunteers, is that different enough? If you take volunteers who otherwise wouldn't participate in that online conversation, is that different enough? What are the aspects of this that are different from a legitimate campaign to change the opinions of others about a position you think is profoundly wrong.

2. One sad aspect of this is that it dilutes the impact of anonymous or semi-anonymous voices on the web. This was a short-cut to influence for ordinary web users. On the other hand, this is in a way natural, whenever the impact of a medium becomes popularly recognized, more people will try to utilize that medium, and its impact will be diluted. In the same way, just having a website used to be a short-cut to influence, but now has little effect.

US gov. actually admitted that it has a trolling network - it used to be called "viral peace". They claim it operates on "terrorist websites". And of course they give no definition of "terrorist websites" - But I think it's safe to assume reddit, twitter, facebook are terrorist websites.

They also have some openly governmental accounts called "Think Again Turn Away", like

https://twitter.com/ThinkAgain_DOS https://www.facebook.com/ThinkAgainTurnAway

They used to directly engage in debate with people more, while now they seem to have switched to a more posting-only style.

I've been talking about this for years; we have to at the least be aware that there is wide scale sockpuppetry and astroturfing for political as well as corporate ends. Better tools for disinformation detection may help. One person running many personas is much easier to detect than the more sophisticated model we have now.

That's a pretty scary concept when we have the rise of the unstoppable, unaccountable and highly secretive spy agencies. Things will probably get even worse when Strong AI exists.

When -> if.

And if strong AI comes in to play the world will change in ways that any kind of speculation as to whether 'things will get worse or better' is totally moot.

If you doubt this, then just criticize Google on HN or Reddit...

Google has thousands of employees and sock puppets on all social media discussions. It's especially blatant on Reddit.

Google is a charity and everything they do is perfect and for the good of humanity. They've never been involved in massive spying and with monopolistic practices concerning their spammy ads and search engine preference for ebay, amazon, trip advisor and others.

Big companies cultivate the mindshare of product fans and employees who then feel naturally inclined to argue for their favorite companies, that's not always meaningfully different from astroturfing, but this doesn't necessarily mean that what you are reading is coming from some Conversation Control Department. Sometimes lots of people on the Internet just disagree with your opinion.

Negative comment, 2 karma and this is an only comment you made... You look like a sock puppet to me :)

maybe you are the sockpuppet?

Behold the futility of the sock puppet accusation in practice.

(Preempting "jerf is a sock puppet". Let's skip that.)

You just never know, do you? ;)

same thing for facebook, criticise the effectiveness of their ads and watch what happens

tptaceck, someone's talking about you.

This has been going on in one form of another throughout history. But if you want to sway opinion on the internet, it's not that easy. There are a lot of voices and noise in the mix, compared to how it was a mere 20 years ago.

This is certainly important, but in the context of history, how people consume information is on a much better track, in my opinion things are actually getting better if you look at the big picture.

Whenever someone says something you disagree with, just accuse them of being a sockpuppet of a shadowy conspiracy.

Then you can censor their view very effectively.

Call me crazy, but it /has/ crossed my mind that #gamergate might have been a large-scale test of the ability to create widespread conflict and some degree of community crisis from thin air through sock-puppetry...

EDIT: I honestly don't totally understand what gamergate is, but am in awe of the resurging energy of the whole thing, and hence the observation

A social group implies at least 2 persons.

Even if two people are in a room, and they start having a conversation what you find is that they will try to

* Censor / Re-Imagine themselves to present their POV in a better way

* Censor / Manipulate the other person to force their POV unto them.

The online is a complete extension of the offline, so its perfectly normal for all this to happen, even all the time !

Seems like it would be an important public service to game as much online discussion as possible, persistently. Right now, the vulnerability of these discussion media is not detrimental to those running them. Make gameability of discussion media something that is actually visible, and the vulnerabilities will be patched.

Kind of hard to follow, what you are trying to say. Synergy.

Persistent, ridiculous gaming of discussion media would be good for society, as it would force it to become gaming resistant.

If you take away sock puppets you take away anonymity as well. Even if you make everyone use their name and face and display pic and ip address and location, there is no guarantee that a group of people will stop censoring another group with or without sock puppets.

If you care to count there are at-least 5 controls on HN or any forum since 1990.

1. What gets on homepage ( Stickies ) 2. Admin control 3. Firewall 4. Voting 5. Moderators

If you take social groups into consideration then on HN you have at least

1. Programmers 2. Startup People 3. Technical People 4. Geeks 5. Hackers 6. Security Hackers 7. College Students 8. Academic People 9. Trend followers 10. Trolls ( my people )

These 10 groups fight amongst each other with the help of 5 controls above. Every forum is always like this, since its inception-middle-death.

No one really wins but the constant bickering about forces each group to outdo each other. Whether it is progress or going about in circles only time will tell.

Just because you can patch the fucking software doesn't mean people will change. You will probably add one more control level to make into a total of 6 and then nothing. Some other egghead will write about censorship 3.0

It is best to accept internet as it is.

All the discussion here pointing out possible shill armies aside - is there some way to actually stop it.

How do we move conversations - Forward.

We voice our thoughts and opinions verbally, with our neighbors, coworkers and friends. Convincing people online in discussion forums is not the best use of our rhetorical time, I would argue that most discussion forums are actually honey pots, whether intended or not.

Are the sock puppets that frequent HN simply much harder to detect? It often surprises me that HN is not a target for these kinds of people; I like to think that I have a good sense of when this kind of thing is going on, but probably I'm less sophisticated than I think I am.

HN is definitely a target for these kind of people. It has gone so far as high level contacts between the bosses of these kind of people and the stewards to sort things out. That doesn't mean that it has stopped nor does it mean there won't be repetitions. Astroturfing, burying, and derailing all happen. The scariest aspect to me is not those that are paid to do this sort of thing, because I can see their motivation but their little helpers in the form of the gullible public. From the above you could probably conclude I'm a cynical old bastard these days and you wouldn't be to far off.

I suspect that any forum with more than a few thousand participants has elements that are trying to actively shape the conversation to serve their goals on it.

> The scariest aspect to me...are their little helpers in the form of the gullible public

Well, given my rather naive comment above, I have to assume that I fall into this category to some extent. What would you suggest people do differently?

Be skeptical about everything you read online and offline (but moreso online), check up on sources rather than to use citations helpfully provided to underpin some bit of information and in general read until the cows come home to make sure you have a solid foundation from which to make your own judgment, especially when it comes to history and any attempts to re-write it.

It is widely claimed (in comment threads) that many tech. companies directly or indirectly operate this sort of targeting here. I'm not certain there's any evidence of this though.

There is plenty of evidence, including some very high level interventions to put a stop to some of the worst of it. No need to name names but it happened in the past it is happening in the present and it will most likely continue as long as HN has any sizeable (or perceived as influential) audience.

hn is without a doubt a target for these kinds of people. I'm honestly surprised that this thread hasn't been flag killed considering how it shows how blatantly idf are gaming this system.

edit: nothing against Israel and Jews in general, just that there was some pretty clear evidence specific to the IDF in the article

Hmmm. The only verified case of sophisticated, organized sockpuppetry in the wild mentioned by the article seem to be related to the Israeli- Palestinian conflict and anti-semitism, and in every case they seem to be orchestrated to favour Israel. But all the comments here seem concentrated on the NSA, AIs, and even abortion. Now downvote me :)

Then clearly either you, or the article, or both are just another reeking layer in the American government's propaganda onion. Edward Snowden clearly proved, scientifically, that the NSA/CIA/Military Industrial Complex controls everything and everyone I don't personally agree with, especially on the internet.

Now go tell your controllers your mission has failed, Udik. If that even is your real name.

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